Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Controls on burning waste in the open

What you must do

Burning waste in the open may release harmful gases, grit and dust. Residues of harmful chemicals such as lead paints, tars and oils that remain in the ashes can be washed into the ground by rain. This may lead to contamination of the soil, groundwater and surface waters.

In order to limit pollution to air, water and land, instead of burning waste in the open you should find alternative methods of waste management, wherever possible. See the page in this guideline on alternatives to burning waste.

Waste management licences

If your business burns waste in the open, such as on a bonfire, you may need a waste management licence or a registered waste exemption. You must have the correct permissions before you burn waste and you must make sure that burning the waste does not create pollution or cause a nuisance.

In some cases, burning waste is forbidden. For example, you may not be allowed to burn waste in an area with poor air quality.

Burning waste plant tissue and untreated wood

You may qualify for a waste exemption from waste management licensing to burn certain waste plant tissue and untreated wood if you burn no more than 10 tonnes in a 24-hour period at the place where it was produced. You must register this paragraph 30 exemption with your environmental regulator. If you have an exemption, you must comply with the exemption objectives.

You must ensure that your activity does not:

  • endanger human health or risk harm to water, air or soil
  • risk harm to plants or animals
  • cause a noise or odour nuisance
  • adversely affect the countryside or places of special interest.

NIEA: paragraph 30 exemption for burning waste on land in the open

SEPA: Waste management licensing exemptions

Burning construction waste

You must not burn waste on a construction site unless you have a pollution prevention and control permit, waste management licence or a registered waste exemption that covers the activity.

Burning farm waste in Northern Ireland

You must not burn non-natural farm waste, such as plastic and tyres, in the open. You are no longer allowed to use a drum incinerator to burn agricultural or veterinary containers that are contaminated with pesticides or other toxic substances.

You can burn some waste, including plant tissue waste and untreated wood, in the open. However, you may need to register a paragraph 30 waste exemption for this activity with the NIEA.

Burning straw or stubble in the open is strongly discouraged. If you have no other alternative then you will be allowed to burn straw or stubble only if you have registered an exemption with the NIEA and follow Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) guidelines.

Normally, you must not burn animal carcasses in the open. You can only burn carcasses if you have permission from DARD. Permission may be granted in certain circumstances, such as when a disease outbreak occurs. For guidance on incinerating animal carcasses, see the page in this guideline: Permits for burning waste.

Burning farm waste in Scotland

You must not burn non-natural farm waste, such as plastic and tyres, in the open. Contact your local SEPA office before you burn waste in a drum incinerator. You can use a drum incinerator in certain circumstances, but you must first register a paragraph 29 exemption with SEPA.

You can burn some waste, including plant tissue waste and untreated wood, in the open. However, you may need to register a paragraph 30 waste exemption for this activity with SEPA.

Burning stubble and straw is strongly discouraged by SEPA.

Normally, you must not burn animal carcasses in the open. You can only burn carcasses if you have permission from Animal Health. Permission may be granted in certain circumstances, such as when a disease outbreak occurs. For guidance on incinerating animal carcasses, see the page in this guideline: Permits for burning waste.

Dark smoke restrictions

You must not cause or allow emissions of dark smoke from your site. There are some exemptions from this requirement, but only if your activities won't cause emissions that could damage health or cause a nuisance. Materials that are likely to emit dark smoke when burned include:

  • tyres and other rubber-based products
  • plastics such as polystyrene
  • cable and wires with plastic insulation covering
  • oils and paints

See the page on dark smoke restrictions in our guideline on preventing air pollution.

In this Guideline

Controls on burning waste in the open

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Permits

NIEA - Apply online

SEPA - Application forms